Microsoft Word Accessibility

Note for screen reader users: After pressing Enter key on the Show element, you may have to update the screen reader buffer (JAWS Insert+Escape) to read the expanded content.

Accessibility Document Checking

Performing Manual Checks

  1. Styles

    Styles are formatting instructions automatically programmed into Word. Styles are used in lieu of the buttons on the toolbar (Bold or Bullets buttons). Headings are a type of Style which makes it easier for various adaptive technologies to navigate a document. Defined styles must be used rather than making font sizes bigger or using bold text. By using Headings, you are creating a real structure in your document which will be correctly read by assistive technology and will make the page more usable for everyone. In Microsoft Word, there are several different styles of Headings to choose from.

      Use styles to create:
    • Titles (using the Title style)
    • Subtitles (using the Subtitle style)
    • Headings (using one of nine Heading styles) Ensure Headings levels are correctly ordered.
    • Bulleted Lists (using one of five different List Bullet styles)
    • Numbered Lists (using one of five different List Number styles)
    • Words in italics (using the Emphasis style)
    • Words in bold (using the Strong style)
    • Underlined words (using the Subtle Reference style)
    Check to ensure that bulleted, numbered, outline and multi-level lists are formatted properly. Improper formatting makes it difficult for non-sighted users to find a list, navigate through a list, identify the list type, and identify when there are multiple levels within a list.
      Formatting Checks
    • Open the Reveal Formatting pane (SHIFT + F1)
    • Select various list items in the document (Bulleted items, Numbered items, Outlined items)
    • If the list is programmatically set, the Reveal Formatting Pane will contain information under the Bullets and Numbering heading

  2. Language settings

    Check to ensure the language setting is defined properly for passages of text. Improper language settings result is mispronounced words and impaired comprehension by non-sighted users. Set the appropriate language for passages and phrases that use a language other than the document default. Exceptions: proper names, technical terms, or foreign words that have become part of the vernacular. Video demonstration of Screen Reader Language challenge

      Setting The Language
    • Set the main language for the document
    • Open the Reveal Formatting pane (SHIFT + F1)
    • Select various places in the document where the default (main) language and other languages are used, and varify the language area in the Formatting Pane
    • To set the language select the region of text that differs to the main body of text Document
    • On the Review Tab, in the Language Group, select Language, then Set Proofing Language.
    • Note: Better results and 'cleaner' formatting can be achieved by (1) Adjusting language settings for individual styles; and (2) Setting your editing/proofing language to that of the main text in your document.

  3. Document properties

    Check to ensure that the document title, author, subject, and keywords are provided under document properties. Missing information will make it difficult for non-sighted users to discern this important information about the document.

      Checking Document Properties:
    • To examine the title field open the Document Properties panel.
    • On the File Tab, in the Info Sub-Tab, Select Properties, then from the drop-down select Show Document Panel
    • Set the Title property to match the document's title.
    • Set other relevant attributes and information fields as needed (author, keywords etc.).

  4. Colour and contrast

    Check to ensure that all text is readable and distinguishable from background colours, watermarks, and background images, and that all text is readable in High Contrast mode (see Theme Gallery in Windows Control Panel, Left Alt + Left Shift + PrtScn). This will help user with partial visual impairments read the document more easily.

      Checking Colour:
    • Information conveyed through colour must also be conveyed textually.
    • Identify elements where colour is used to convey meaning (Pie charts, Bar charts, Table data cells, Figures, Status, Instructions, Flowcharts).
    • Add a text equivalent on or adjacent to the element that conveys the same information.
    • Note: Information conveyed in text may be placed in the alt-text, but it should not be the only place that the text is shown. The information should be clearly visible at all times for all users of the interface. Using alt-text attributes to "pop up" information normally conveyed in colour is inappropriate, because people who have colour vision problems are not required to have their interface set to show alt-text on mouse-over.

  5. Complex table

    Check to determine if the document contains complex tables.

      Checking Tables:
    • Ensure data cells are associated with the correct header cells.
    • To look for the presence of merged or split cells, visually inspect the document.
    • Complex tables may require additional header labeling to maintain the correct relationship for cells and headers. Merged cells can confuse the programmatic associations between data cells and their intended table headers.

  6. Sample Document

    Transpo Case Study Sample Microsoft Word document illustrates:

    • Alternative text description on images.
    • Hierarchical Heading structure.
    • Structured data table.


Automated Accessibility Checking

Check out the Document Accessibility Toolbar (DAT) for a free dedicated accessibility ribbon menu for Microsoft Word that makes it quicker and easier to create accessible documents, Pioneered by Vision Australia’s Digital Access consultancy. The DAT will not only make accessible document creation easier, it will ensure equal access to information for everyone.

The Microsoft Accessibility Checker checks your file against a set of possible issues for people who have disabilities might experience in your file. Each issue is classified as:

MS-Word Accessibility Checker Display:

  1. Error - An error is for content that makes a file very difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to understand.
  2. Warning - A warning is for content that in most, but not all, cases makes a file difficult for people with disabilities to understand.
  3. Tip - A tip is for content that people with disabilities can understand, but that might be better organized or presented in a way that would improve their experience.

Using the Accessibility Checker:

  1. Save the document in .docx format. If shown, (Maintain compatibility with previous versions of Word) must be unchecked.
  2. Press and release ALT, press and release F (File tab), press and release I (Info).
  3. Press and release I (Check for Issues) and then press A (Check Accessibility).
  4. Check for unclear hyperlink text. Hyperlink text which is not meaningful, descriptive, and unique needs to be appropriately labeled. For example, a Link titled Click Here does not provide enough information to a non-sighted user to understand the link's destination or purpose.
  5. Check for unstructured document. Documents which are not formatted using styles and heading levels may not contain enough structure to enable a non-sighted user to navigate through a document as quickly as a sighted user.
  6. Check for skipped heading levels. Skipped heading levels exist when heading levels are defined in the document but in an inconsistent logical reading order (a heading formatted as level 1 is followed by a heading formatted as level 3). Skipped heading levels make it difficult for non-sighted users to navigate a document.
  7. Check for repeated blank characters. Blank spaces used for formatting purposes (multiple carriage returns, and the use of Tabs and Spaces to align text) create reading issues for non-sighted users.
  8. Check for object not inline. Objects which are not 'inline' with text (also called floating objects) cannot be found by a non-sighted user and should not be used.
  9. Check for no header row specified. When heading rows are not defined, non-sighted users may have difficulty identifying the meaning of data cells and how they relate to other data in the table.
  10. Check for blank table rows or columns. When tables contain blank rows or columns, it is difficult for non-sighted users to understand and navigate through the table.
  11. Check for missing alt text in tables. Titles or summaries should be added to tables so non-sighted users can comprehend the purpose and design of the table without going through the entire table.
  12. Check for missing alt text in pictures, text boxes, other elements. Picture, text boxes, and other non-decorative images require text descriptions (also called alternative text or "Alt Text"), to convey information to non-sighted users.
For more information see the Microsoft Office Support:


Accessibility Checklist

  1. General Requirements for all Documents

    • Does the document file name not contain spaces and/or special characters?
    • Is the document file name concise, generally limited to 20-30 characters, and does it make the contents of the file clear?
    • Have the Document Properties for Title, Author, Subject (AKA Description), Keywords, Language, and Copyright Status been applied?
    • Does the document utilize recommended fonts (E.G., Times New Roman, Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, Helvetica, or Calibri)?
    • Have track changes been accepted or rejected and turned off?
    • Have comments been removed and formatting marks been turned off?
    • Does the document refrain from using flashing/flickering text and/or animated text?
    • Is the document free of background images or watermarks?
    • Do all images, grouped images, and nontext elements that convey information have meaningful alternative-text descriptions?
    • Do complex images (E.G., charts and graphs) have descriptive text near the image (perhaps as a caption)?
    • Do all URLs contain descriptive hyperlinks (E.G., avoid generic phrases like Click Here and, instead, use phrases that let users know about the content of the linked page prior to selecting it)?
    • Are all URLs linked to correct Web destinations?
    • Are e-mail links accessible?
    • Has a separate accessible version of the document been provided when there is no other way to make the content accessible?
    • If there are tables, are blank cells avoided?
    • Is all of the text easy to read in comparison to the background of the document (E.G., has a colour-contrast ratio of 4.5:1)?
    • Has the document been reviewed in Print Preview for a final visual check?

  2. Formatting Requirements

    • Has the document been formatted using Style elements (Heading 1, Heading 2) and/or Outline in a hierarchical manner (E.G., Heading 1 to Heading 2 to Body Text)?
    • Are page numbering codes used as opposed to manually typed page numbers?
    • If footnotes are present, have they been created through Word Footnote linking?
    • If colour is used to emphasize the importance of selected text, is there an alternate method also used?
    • Is the list style being used as opposed to manually typed characters (E.G. Hyphens, numbers, or graphics)?
    • Is the document free of text boxes (recommended if possible)?
    • If the document contains a Table of Contents (TOC), was it created using the TOC field (E.G., created using the TOC Command in MS Word)?

  3. Document Image Requirements

    • Are multiple associated images on the same page (E.G., boxes in an organizational chart) grouped as one object?
    • Have all multilayered objects been flattened into one image and does that image use one alternative text description for the image?
    • Do images/graphics appear crisp and legible?

  4. Document Table Requirements

    • If the document has a tabular appearance, then make the tabular structure using the table option (as opposed to manual Tabs and/or Spaces)?
    • Do all tables have a logical reading order from left to right, top to bottom?
    • Do data tables have the entire first row designated as a Header Row in table properties?
    • Is the table free of Merged Cells (recommended if possible)?
    • Are all tables described and labeled (where appropriate)? Note: In some cases naming/numbering of tables may not be appropriate. For example, a small data table in a presentation may not need a reference.
    • In table properties, is Allow Row To Break Across Pages unchecked?